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Another sailor said he could hear what sounded like a huge waterfall and felt what seemed like a cold breeze blowing through the quarters. , In early March 1990, the House Armed Services Committee released its report, titled USS Iowa Tragedy: An Investigative Failure. He would call Breau, who would then relay them back to Schrimsher via a special emergency intercom. The speed left Coppock nervous. Johnson, "Their Hearts Said Navy Erred About Iowa Blast", Engelberg, "Navy Finding on Iowa Blast Is Drawing Criticism", Schwoebel, p. 27; Thompson, pp. Feeling numb, Dora had one request: Could she see her husband one last time? The Navy fired admirals, captains and commanders, punished sailors and criminally prosecuted officers for neglecting their duties. He further announced that he had directed the Navy to never again use an informal board composed of a single officer to investigate such an incident. For loved ones, the return of the Fitzgerald had been a macabre lottery. One more incident rattled the ship’s officers. At about 8:30 a.m., the first American rescuers arrived on scene, Navy tugboats from Yokosuka. He had drafted six lineups, his planning hampered by the ship’s broken administrative network. Naval Reserve. A little after 1:30 a.m. on June 17, 2017, Alexander Vaughan tumbled from his bunk onto the floor of his sleeping quarters on board the Navy destroyer USS Fitzgerald. Its modern incarnation is based in Yokosuka — the Navy’s largest overseas installation. 1, 120â21; Thompson, pp. In late November 1989, as part of the GAO inquiry, GAO investigators Tim Stone and Jerry Hurley, accompanied by Miceli, arrived on, Conahan, p. 2; Halloran, "2 Survivors of Iowa Blast Deny Shipmate Set It Off", Vogel, "Deadly Blast Haunts Battleship's Skipper", Garzke, Diehl, p. 174; Schwoebel, pp. The Crystal pilot then maneuvered a roundabout track to avoid the gigantic cargo vessel. The Fitzgerald continued spinning, completing a 360-degree rotation over the next five minutes. Thompson states that Hekman's oversight panel was a "toothless tiger" which rarely met, was not actively involved in Miceli's day-to-day operations, and never pressured Miceli to speed up his work. Although Miceli had said that he did not know what had happened to the two missing projectiles, Cooper said that when he asked a civilian technician in the warehouse about the missing projectiles, the technician immediately led him to a room where the projectiles were stored. When the ship set sail in February 2017, it was supposed to be for a short training mission for its green crew. Therefore, there was no accurate roster detailing the position of each of the 59 men assigned to the turret. Hernandez, a deeply faithful Roman Catholic, loved spending time with his wife, Dora, and 3-year-old son. Closest to the Fitzgerald was a Chinese cargo vessel, the Wan Hai 266, slightly smaller than the Crystal. Showers of sparks from the cables fell like rain between them. 69â71, 346â47. The No. “Oh shit, I’m so fucked! 174; Schwoebel, pp. A federal judge dismissed the suit. She leaned close to him and prayed. Combs had grown up in a Navy family — her father was a retired admiral who had been one of the Navy’s first black senior officers. They did what they could not while on board: They hung out with family, took hot showers alone and slammed down drinks at The Honch, the row of bars outside base. “Right goddamn now,” Ogilvie said. The Fitzgerald came into view of Yokosuka harbor late in the afternoon on June 17. For instance, the Navy charged Benson and other officers with negligent homicide — then abruptly withdrew the accusations without explanation last summer. To help supervise Lawrence, Ziegler assigned Gunner's Mate Second Class Clayton Hartwig, the former center gun captain, who had been excused from gun turret duty because of a pending reassignment to a new duty station in London, to the center gun's crew for the firing exercise. Skelley claimed that one of the 16 inch shells traveled 23.4 nautical miles (40 km), setting a record for the longest conventional 16 inch (406.4mm) shell ever fired. Most of the bodies recovered from the center gun and turret officer's booth were badly burned and in pieces, making identification difficult. “Hard left rudder.”. The Fitzgerald’s captain selected an untested team to steer the ship at night. The Fitzgerald was repeatedly dispatched on new missions, postponing opportunities for training and maintenance. Thompson stated that after the book was published, a previously scheduled invitation to speak at the U.S. Navy's National Museum was rescinded, his book was banned from being sold in the museum's book store, and Navy exchange stores at bases throughout the world were forbidden from selling his book. It bears the ship’s motto: “Protect Your People.”. Sandia's report concluded that the probability of powder ignition in the 16-inch guns by an overram was such that measures needed to be taken to ensure that overrams were precluded at any speed. “Fuck your boots, captain,” Caldwell said. But hundreds of repairs, major and minor, remained to be done. She was especially worried about Woodley, who was responsible for watching the radars in the combat room. “But it was hard.”. By long Navy tradition, attendance at such meals was considered necessary to forge the esprit de corps needed to run a ship. He could hear the shouts and groans of his sailors. He told White to strip off his shirt and lay on Benson to warm him up. In a panic, she ordered the Fitzgerald to turn directly into the path of the Crystal. Coppock said she stayed away from the officers’ mess because of criticism from fellow junior officers. Looking up, he saw the light coming from the open scuttle and fought his way toward it. He had served in Iraq and was nearing retirement from the Navy. To assist the GAO, Sandia National Laboratories provided a team of scientists to review the Navy's technical investigation. One of the men was Christopher Perez, the Fitzgerald’s senior chief petty officer for the ship’s missile and gun systems. The bridge was in chaos. Because of the late hour, Ziegler did not inform Hartwig of his assignment until the morning of 19 April, shortly before the firing exercise was scheduled to begin. “The House of Blue Light,” some in the Navy called it. Petty Officer 2nd Class Rod Felderman had awakened in his top bunk at the moment of impact. Sometimes he flashes the fierce, angry glare that he once reserved for errant sailors. After a request by Metzenbaum, Nunn's committee placed a permanent hold on any future rank promotion for Milligan. Before joining ProPublica, he was a reporter at The Los Angeles Times, where his work exposed inmate abuse, cronyism, secret cop cliques and wrongful jailings at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. To track a ship, a radar operator must “hook” it — or direct an automated system to lock on the target and display its projected path. The collision of the vessels was the Navy’s worst accident at sea in four decades. The main steering console occupied the middle of the room, appearing like a cabinet with a small wheel sticking out of it to control the rudder and levers to control the ship’s speed. Sidelined during years of land wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy is now strategically central to containing North Korea’s nuclear threat, China’s expansionist aims and a newly aggressive Russia. Personality conflicts are the norm on a ship where crew members spend months in tight quarters. About this same time, Hanyecz yelled over the phone circuit, "Oh, my God! One could not be made to automatically track nearby ships. Becker and Plunkett's story stated that Navy records disclosed that friction had ignited powder bags aboard other battleships, poor safety practices and an inadequate gunnery training program existed on. After spending 50 hours exploring the ramifications on a Cray supercomputer, Schuler concluded that this overram, combined with the 2,800 pounds-force per square inch (19 MPa) of pressure produced by the rammer, likely compressed the powder bags to the point that they had ignited. He had tried to balance weaker officers with stronger ones. Schrimsher fought the list, the slowed propulsion, the shifting currents. “Once I knew he was gone, there was nothing else I could do.”. Caldwell found Benson lying in his bunk. On the Fitzgerald, the list of maintenance jobs ran into the hundreds. Schmitt, "Navy Investigators Face New Attack". In August 1991, Sandia and the GAO completed their reports, concluding that it was likely that the explosion was caused by an accidental overram of powder bags into the breech of the 16-inch gun. Felderman has returned home to the United States with his wife and daughter. 68â69; Vistica, p. 289, [cited reference does not support sentence linked to footnote] Engelberg, "Navy Finding on Iowa Blast Is Drawing Criticism", Thompson, pp. Schwoebel, pp. So the only other thing he saw were false returns — so-called clutter that could result from the radar hitting waves, flocks of birds or any other obstacle at sea. And indeed, despite the Sandia theory and almost two years of subsequent testing, a substantial body of scientific and expert evidence continue to support the initial investigation finding that no plausible accidental cause can be established." The ship nearly sank. Felderman found himself alone on the starboard side of the Fitzgerald. The blow tilted the deck 14 degrees off level, hurling men from their beds and uprooting lockers and furniture. ", On 10 April the battleship was visited by commander of the US 2nd Fleet, Vice Admiral Jerome L. Johnson, and on 13 April Iowa sailed from Norfolk to participate in a fleet exercise in the Caribbean Sea near Puerto Rico. Only emergency lanterns and moonlight illuminated the bridge. Visiting the FBI's facility at Quantico, Virginia, Mountz, Goodman, Goodwin, and NIS employee Dawn Teague explained to FBI special agents Richard Ault and Roy Hazelwood that the Iowa explosion was not an accident, but an act of sabotage. The workaround made Stawecki look like he was sending a frantic message in Morse code. The explosion caved in the door between the center gun room and the turret officer's booth and buckled the bulkheads separating the center gun room from the left and right gun rooms. Before Moosally became aware of their refusal, someone noticed that Turret One's guns were actually pointed directly at, Schwoebel, pp. In another setting, the sudden inundation might have drowned everyone alive. Benson had appointed Combs as the tactical action officer for the watch. Nelson froze, unsure of how to respond. , Turret One fired first, beginning at 09:33. The warship’s state of readiness was in question. 20, 24; Thompson, pp. China and Japan went to war in 1937. In spite of this request, the Navy chose Miceli to lead the new investigation but continuously report on his progress to a technical oversight board. He would hit the button more than 1,000 times in an hour to keep the images of nearby ships updated. After some confusion, it became clear that most of the sailors had escaped from Berthing 2. Safe, they peered back down the hole. , Beginning in May, reports on the NIS investigation began to appear in news media, including The Virginian-Pilot, Newsday, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Daily Press, most of which mentioned Hartwig or Truitt by name. It was made mostly of wood and was in constant need of repair. Sonar Technician Kamari Eason had first watch, too, but didn’t get to bed until midnight. It was the Crystal. The report concluded that the powder bags had been overrammed into the center gun by 21 inches (53 cm), but had been done so under Hartwig's direction in order to trigger the explosive timer that he had placed between two of the powder bags. The action was constant, the missions important.  Meyer later served as the director of civilian reprisal investigations for the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Defense. The Archives has reviewed the deck log and war diary from Eldridge's commissioning on 27 August 1943 at the New York Navy Yard through December 1943. He found only inches of space between the water level and the top of the compartment. Originally from, Schwoebel, pp. Breau’s last trick was a bucket brigade. He was an eager young sailor who had advanced quickly and impressed Benson with his initiative. But he was not a criminal. He regarded Coppock as one of the best officers that he had. Navy leaders needed their bodies to plug staffing shortfalls on other destroyers. It may have been a good training exercise. He tried to get up from his bed but could not. Engelberg, "Navy Finding on Iowa Blast Is Drawing Criticism", Schwoebel, pp. Vaughan reached down and pulled him up. Thompson, pp. Scanio said that Milligan would not allow him to identify whose body was found at the bottom of the center gun pit. He saw what his assistant, Stawecki, saw as he tapped away at his radar station: nothing near or dangerous. Sometimes, the radar would show the destroyer heading the wrong way. She’d started her day almost 22 hours before and had managed to rest for one hour before taking over on the bridge. He was charged with helping keep track of ship traffic around the destroyer. On 19 April 1991, the Hartwig family sued the Navy for "intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress" under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The senators questioned the Navy officers about the lack of adequate training on Iowa; the age and condition of the ship's powder; problems with the center gun's rammer; the illegal gunfire experiments; the methods used and conclusions reached in the investigation; and the series of leaks to the media from Navy and NIS personnel. As one of two director-level leaders of the Department of Defense Whistleblower Program, he conducted and oversaw allegations of whistleblower reprisal made by DoD civilian employees and submitted to the Inspector General. During the same shoot, Moosally ordered Turret One's crew to manually fire their guns using lanyards, which is a dangerous, last-ditch method. The ship’s entire network was suffering. Both officers and enlisted crew were stunned. Donnell suspended both fines. The outcome is common enough that captains joke with the young officers steering their ships. The Navy inquiries determined that there had been widespread problems with leaders regarding shortfalls in training, manning and equipment in the 7th Fleet. Cyanide gas from the burning foam jackets had killed many of the turret crewmen. They can track and shoot down ballistic missiles, making them almost unique in the nation’s armed forces. Normally, Benson directed the officer of the deck to call him if the ship deviated from its planned course by more than 500 yards to avoid traffic. The Fitzgerald needed to be ready for war with North Korea. With the SPS-67 button taped over, only specialized technicians could change the tuning from another part of the ship. He didn’t accept a lot of excuses,” Travius Caldwell, one of the ship’s chief petty officers, said. “But at the end of the day, our commanders make decisions and our sailors execute and there is an outcome — a result of that decision. But it was poor navigation practice. He had been raised Navy: His father was a retired master chief who had lectured him on the importance of standing watch to ensure the safety of his ship, noted an obituary in the Times of San Diego. Schwoebel, p. 65; Thompson, pp. They liked how he’d walk the decks to stop and chat with sailors. She picked up a microphone for the shipwide intercom: “I assume all duties and responsibilities for damage control onboard USS Fitzgerald,” she announced. “I need you. Others disappeared into the darkness of a common bathroom, carried by the force of water rushing to fill every available space. Coppock didn’t call down to the combat room to ask for help, either. Engelberg, "Navy Finding on Iowa Blast Is Drawing Criticism", Schwoebel, pp. According to Thompson, the. The members of the team Coppock was leading that night were all certified for their posts. He told them he was relieved to be alive. Said Schwoebel of Miceli's refusal to conduct the tests, "For one of the few times during the investigation, I was angry.  Although Miceli had just announced that test results at Dahlgren showed that an electronic timer had not caused the explosion, Trost endorsed the report on 31 August, stating that Hartwig was "the individual who had motive, knowledge, and physical position within the turret gun room to place a device in the powder train". Hernandez was there with 3-year-old Leon in a baby carrier strapped to her chest. He could remember tracking only a few contacts, all of them far away. The U.S. Senate and U.S. House Armed Services Committees both held hearings to inquire into the Navy's investigation and later released reports disputing the U.S. Navy's conclusions. The next day, the destroyer limped into Yokosuka harbor. The 30,000-ton Crystal was moving at 18 knots. Schwoebel, pp. Carlos Clark snatched up the receiver. “I thought it was somebody,” Perez told Ogilvie. “I wanted to be part of something larger than myself,” she said. He often slept on benches in the lounge area, where he could stretch out more than in his bunk. We set out to reconstruct the accidents in which the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain collided with cargo vessels within a few months of each other in 2017, the deadliest accidents at sea in the Navy in four decades. The starboard exit was blocked by debris. Benson’s cabin lay high above the surface of the ocean, four decks above his sailors in Berthing 2. To follow the hooked tracks, Stawecki had to repeatedly press a button that refreshed the display on his screen. “Get out, get out,” he shouted as men surged toward him through the rising water. These men were protected by blast doors which separate the magazine spaces from the rest of the turret. They did not tell the FBI that Smith had recanted his statement to the NIS. During the shoot John Mullahy, working in Turret Two's powder magazine, overheard someone say that the center gun's gas ejection air was not functioning. Other problems discovered included hydraulic fluid leaks in all three main gun turrets, totaling 55 US gallons (210 L) per turret per week, Cosmoline (anticorrosion lubricant) which had not been removed from all the guns, deteriorated bilge piping, frequent shorts in the electrical wiring, pump failures, unrepaired soft patches on high-pressure steam lines, and frozen valves in the ship's firefighting system. “But I don’t see where I broke any laws.”. That’s just how things were. He delivered brief remarks. She went into a hospital room. Coppock had displayed her skills in the weeks after Benson took command. Up on the bridge, Babbitt was fighting to keep the ship afloat. The center gun's compressed air system, which cleansed the bore of sparks and debris each time the gun was fired, was not operating properly. 151, 184; Thompson, pp. Diehl, p. 175; Schwoebel, pp. After observing the scene in the center gun room and asking some questions, Drake told Iowa crewmen that, "It's my opinion that the explosion started in the center gun room caused by compressing the powder bags against the sixteen-inch shell too far and too fast with the rammer arm". She ordered the Fitzgerald to dodge the fishing vessel by turning sharply left. The book was extremely critical of many of Iowa's crewmembers, as well as many of those involved with the subsequent U.S. Navy investigation, and the NCIS (formerly NIS). Among them was the simple act of talking. Iowa Disaster", "Navy Punishes Four for Iowa's Deficiencies", "Development of the World's Fastest Battleships", "Pentagon Transferring Crewman Under Investigation in Iowa Blast", "Discord Reported in Navy Over Iowa Blast Inquiry", "Sailor Under Investigation Denies Links to Iowa Blast", "Tests by Experts Challenge Navy Over Iowa Blast", "Explosion and Fire Kill at Least 47 on Navy Warship", "Iowa Blast Inquiry Turns to Possibility of Foul Play", "Navy Investigation of Iowa Explosion Was Thorough and Sound", "Earl V. Hartwig, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. National Broadcasting Co, Defendant-Appellee", "Deadly Blast Haunts Battleship's Skipper", "The suicide files: Death in the military (third of four parts)", List of battleships of the United States Navy, Shipwrecks and maritime incidents in 1989, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=USS_Iowa_turret_explosion&oldid=991269858, Industrial fires and explosions in the United States, Sexual orientation and the United States military, Non-combat internal explosions on warships, CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown, Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License, Investigation into the Explosion in Number Two Turret on board USS, This page was last edited on 29 November 2020, at 05:08. Sailors used flashlights and cellphones to guide their way through the darkened ship. “We’d find a part, find a body, make do and get underway,” Furqan later testified in a legal proceeding. At this angle, one of Turret Two's guns was firing over Turret One. Miceli's team at Crane disagreed that the fibers on all three shells were the same, claiming that the ones on the center projectile were different sizes. Denis Medved, a young seaman whose bunk lay closest to the hole, was blasted out of his bed to the other side of the berthing. There Ziegler complained to his wife about the morale, training, and safety situation aboard Iowa, stating, "We're shorthanded. They hauled them through surging water, slipping, stumbling toward exits. He had a laceration on his head, its cause unknown. Here’s how it happened. After spending some time â¦ Technicians complained of being called to fix radar problems that were actually the result of operator errors. In the 90 seconds since the crash, the water had almost reached the top of Berthing 2. Although Sandia representatives were present at Miceli's briefing, the board members did not invite Sandia to rebut or comment on Miceli's assertions. Schmitt, "Tests by Experts Challenge Navy Over Iowa Blast", Schwoebel, pp. During the investigation, numerous leaks to the media, later attributed to U.S. Navy officers and investigators, implied that Hartwig and another sailor, Kendall Truitt, had engaged in a romantic relationship and that Hartwig had caused the explosion after their relationship had soured. , Also on 18 April, Iowa's fire-control officer, Lieutenant Leo Walsh, conducted a briefing to discuss the next day's main battery exercise. In January, the destroyer USS Antietam had run aground while in Yokosuka’s harbor. Schwoebel, pp. Arleigh Burke, the admiral who lends his name to the model of ship that the Fitzgerald belonged to, once reflected on what made for the best kinds of officers. Rosenthal, "Discord Reported in Navy Over Iowa Blast Inquiry", Schwoebel, p. 243; Thompson, pp. Three days later, however, Smith recanted his statement to the NIS in its entirety when he was asked to reread and reaffirm a transcript of the interrogation, and signed a statement to that effect. Coppock had grown up in Willard, Missouri, a town of 5,000 northwest of Springfield. 31â34. Instead, a spokesman cited previous reports that the Navy published during its own months-long review of the collisions. 8â9; Thompson, pp. Skelley asked Turret Two's gun chief, Senior Chief Reggie Ziegler, if he could use Turret Two for his experiments; Ziegler refused. He suspected the ship had been hit. 290â91. Aside from radar, however, the Fitzgerald had other systems in place to detect oncoming vessels. Skelley, 40, from. 98â100. Later, FBI agents Ault and Hazelwood appeared before the committee and answered questions about how they had prepared their equivocal death analysis on Hartwig. 189â90; Vistica, p. 290. They came from small towns like Palmyra, Virginia, and big cities like Houston. For the sailors aboard, it was the first time home in four months. Smith said that the NIS agents also offered him a "testimonial grant of immunity" signed by Milligan. No other missile defense can deploy as quickly or cover as wide an area. As a group, they decided: Whether the men appeared dead or alive, each would receive emergency treatment. It was Khalil Legier’s first night in Berthing 2, having moved earlier that day from another quarters. xxi, 164, 216â22. But they could hear his pleas for help. Captains often insist on remaining on the bridge when maneuvering through traffic at night. Rigsby’s body was recovered at 5:23 a.m. 101, 155. xviii, 149â73; Thompson, pp. The Fitzgerald sailed with two aircraft carriers and their escorts in the Sea of Japan, a demonstration of strength aimed at North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. xvii, 27, 51; Thompson, pp. Garzke, Dorsey, "Ten years after Iowa tragedy, only evidence left is memories", Schwoebel, pp. “PHENOMENAL LEADER,” he wrote. But it’s dangerously cold for water. The ship was listing, wheeling in the dark uncontrolled. Helmsman-in-training Simona Nelson had taken the wheel of a destroyer at sea for the first time in her life 25 minutes earlier. “We can’t slow down because it’ll make the situation worse.” Coppock worried that slowing down might bring her into the path of the ship that was supposed to pass behind them. , After the fire was extinguished, Mortensen entered the turret to help identify the bodies of the dead crewmen. But he could turn fierce when confronted with a screw-up, fixing a backsliding sailor with a piercing stare, followed by a pointed and personal lesson. As Mead half-walked, half-swam toward the open scuttle, he had to battle his way through debris. At 8:28 a.m., Noe Hernandez, 26, was found near the starboard lounge. Vaughan and Tapia waited until they were alone at the bottom of the ladder. At 7:45 a.m., the divers brought up Douglass, of San Diego, California. Later media reports indicated that the U.S. Navy believed that Hartwig had intentionally caused the explosion after his relationship with Truitt had gone sour. But Coppock disobeyed Benson’s standing orders. Vaughan limped around on his fractured thigh for several days until his own sailors told him to see a doctor. As a petty officer first class, these were his sailors, and in those first foggy seconds Vaughan realized they were in danger of drowning. Clark rushed back to the bridge, where he kept a 35-pound kettlebell for exercise. The achievement sealed Coppock’s reputation as a hell of a sailor. It was Jackson Schrimsher, a weapons specialist from Alabama. Overramming the powder bags into the gun could subject the highly flammable powder to excessive friction and compression, with a resulting increased danger of premature combustion. The four held on to one another’s belts as they crept forward in the dark, following the captain’s voice. Shortly thereafter, the Navy issued a statement explaining that the safety violations and training deficiencies found aboard Iowa during the investigation were unrelated to the explosion. The FBI's equivocal death analysis was labeled the "single major fault of the investigation". Suddenly, Navy leaders had to explain to Congress how two American warships had crashed with two cargo vessels in the space of two months. Citing the Feres case, US District Judge Claude M. Hilton in Alexandria, Virginia, summarily dismissed the suit.. , Milligan and Miceli retired from the Navy in 1992 as a rear admiral and captain, respectively. Its communications systems were collapsing. He canceled all leaves. This was the 7th Fleet. 296â98. , The New York Times in 1993 severely criticized the U.S. Navy for a series of botched investigations, including the Tailhook scandal, the Iowa explosion, security breaches at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, Russia, and a problematic investigation into the murder of a homosexual sailor in Yokosuka, Japan. Exhausted, Benson made a change to the night orders to guide the sailors who would pilot the Fitzgerald during the dark early morning hours. Milligan later taught economics at the Naval Postgraduate School, then became vice president of a national insurance company. , On 3 October, Donnell disciplined Iowa's officers in response to findings in Milligan's report. 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